I spent the winter break reading the revised edition of Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Author Jon Kabat-Zinn has a number of books that explain mindfulness. This one is my favorite because it is so practical.

Mindfulness Meditation
I began a daily practice of meditation in Summer 2014. At first I used the "Smiling Mind" App on my iPad to train myself. They have a variety of short 4-10 minute guided meditations. I recommend it as a way to get started.

Mindfulness: Mental Noting or Just Noting

Now I practice mindfulness meditation every day. It is part of my self-care routine to counteract stress. Sometimes at school after a difficult session, parent conference, or meeting I just shut my office door for 5 minutes and take a mindfulness break. Ideally you are focused on your breath but thoughts, feelings, and distractions will occur.

"Labeling" your thoughts when you notice that you are thinking or feeling or noticing something.
Label the thought what it is: thinking, wandering, worrying, planning, doubting, judging, fantasizing, and daydreaming.
Label the emotion: anxiety, fear, impatience, irritation, etc.

Just notice and then, bring your attention back to your breath.

If you are distracted by a sound, label those as well: traffic, dog barking, laughter, heating unit, phone, birds, etc.
"Thinking"…come back to the breath…"Planning"…come back to the breath…
“Feeling”…"Anxiety"… gently come back to the breath…
"Noise"…come back to the breath.

Mental or just noting identifies where are thoughts have gone and then come back to the present moment. After the mindfulness meditation you can think about what you noted and look for patterns

This article the-art-of-self-massage/ has many great suggestions for taking care of self with self-message.  My favorite is rubbing the bottoms of my feet with lavendar oil before bed. It helps me fall asleep quickly and sleep restfully.

Take a vacation
Getting away helps us to restore our batteries.  It takes us away from our homes that are often filled with seemingly endless chores and responsibilities. I stay away from my school all summer. I need the 2+ months off to fully recharge myself.

Stress Relief
Keep Calm Candle
As counselors, it is important to take time for ourselves.  I highly recommend lowering the lights at night and burning a candle with a scent like lavender for the last half hour before you need to go to sleep.  You can also use lavendar oil on a cotton ball inside your pillow case to help you relax. Light is the enemy of sleep.  Keeping a regular sleep pattern even on weekends and vacations results in the best quality sleep.  If we are not getting adequate sleep or stress will increase along with many other unhealthy effects.

School Year Beginning to End
How can school counselors start the year refreshed and keep from getting totally worn out by June?
As the flight attendants say us put your own oxygen mask on first! As a professional helper we tend to take care of the needs of people all around us and ignore our own.  Remind yourself that you will be a much more effective counselor if you get adequate sleep, keep yourself hydrated, take time to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch, take a brief brain break when you need it, and go home at a reasonable time.  Don't bring home a big bag of work nightly.  It won't get done and you will start your next day feeling guilty as you lug it back to the office.  Do take a few minutes before leaving to clean up your work space so it looks inviting when you walk back in the next school day.  Find someone at your school (or if necessary by phone or email) that you can talk to when you need support.  Build in time to do something you enjoy each day.  Consider ending your day counting your blessings or writing in a gratitude journal.  Finally, breathe! When you find yourself getting overwhelmed, stressed, or panicky, take a few minutes to do some of the belly breathing you teach your students. If you take care of yourself you will be in a much better position to help others.

New Years Resolutions

I have 5 resolutions for 2013.
Learn something new each week. This could be a new pattern for my knitting I am working on a new scarf pattern this week or explore a new web resource.  We learned about the new version of Pixie today in our inservice.
Enjoy life more. I love to be outside.  If I stay too late at school it is dark when I get home.  I know I function better and am less wound up when I make time to be outdoors even if it is just for a walk around the block.
Connect with colleagues. This could be actually eating in the lounge instead of in front of my computer or calling one of the other elementary counselors in my district to share ideas once or twice a month.
Follow a consistent sleep schedule. The quality of sleep is better if we go to bed and get up at approximately the same time each day.  The holidays made for some late nights but it is time to reestablish a solid routine.
Appreciate today. We can't change the past or tomorrow but we can appreciate the moment.  I hope everyone thinks of positive resolutions that will help 2013 be a healthy and enjoyable year.

Cycling, Walking, Yoga, Pilates, Weight Lifting…

Even if you are not athletic, competitive, or have poor eye hand coordination, you still need regular exercise daily.  I prefer to exercise outdoors because being in nature is restorative. But our bodies need a balance, and yoga, Pilates, and weight lifting each have their own benefits.  If you are a dancer and love music “Zumba” still is very popular.  Counselors need a physical outlet, so find a few you enjoy and just do it!

Take up a new hobby
I am taking up knitting simple projects, like this scarf I just finished.  I used to knit a little as a kid but I had not done it in many years.  I find the repetitive motion of knitting very relaxing.  I especially like to knit when I have to ride in a car several hours on a highway with the big trucks flying by.  I think it is good to shift focus to something that does not require a lot of thinking.  At the same time there is a finished product you can admire and then use or give away, a win-win...

Go Off-Line
I know I have recently posted about the tech tools that I enjoy. Technology is a terrific resource but it is a danger to us as well. It is easy to spend too much time texting, cruising Facebook and Pinterest, etc. Part of self care is taking a break from technology. When I go to the beach I never take my computer unless I am there fore more than 3 days. I don't have a Smartphone because I don't want to be available 24-7. I hope everyone takes time to go outside and enjoy nature this Spring!

Ethical Mandate: Responsibilities to Self
Professional school counselors monitor emotional and physical health and practice wellness to ensure optimal effectiveness. Seek physical or mental health referrals when needed to ensure competence at all times (ASCA, 2010). Self-care is an ethical mandate not a choice for members of our profession. It is impossible to take care of others if we don't model taking care of ourselves. I am taking time this fall to enjoy my St. Louis Cardinals playing in the October series. Take some time each week to do something that restores you!

A Smile File
A “Smile File” is a collection of letters, emails, or cards from past or current staff, students, and parents that tell you how great you are and what a difference you made in their lives. They may also thank you for a specific act or event you organized. The positive reinforcement that comes from reviewing these helps re-energize you to carry on, regardless of what is going on currently. I can remember a former principal who was very introverted and did not recognize staff publicly very often but he wrote the best notes and left them in our mailboxes. When I changed schools a few years ago I started a new smile file. I encourage all counselors to keep a smile file in their office and review it when you need a pick me up.

My favorite self-care activity is gardening. I also try to spend time in my garden enjoying the beautiful results of my labor. This is my garden relaxing spot with the great chair my husband made. Counselors need a passion other than their job. I hope all counselors spend time recharging themselves doing something they enjoy!

Physical Self-Care
Counselors are great at informing clients what is needed to live a balanced and healthy life style. However, do we take care of ourselves. Do we get the right amount of sleep? Do we drink plenty of water? Do we eat a healthy breakfast? Do we leave our office and eat a nutritional lunch? Do we take breaks and walk around or at least stretch? I try to keep healthy snacks in my office like almonds and apples when I need some extra energy. We need to give our own bodies what they need before we can help others. ACA has some easy wellness assessments for counselors, check them out.